|Vaccaro was a Godfather figure when Carmelo Anthony was starring on the summer circuit. (Getty Images)|
I was sitting beside Sonny Vaccaro in Las Vegas as the July evaluation period came to a close over the weekend, and I couldn't help but think how much things have changed since he left the summer circuit.
"Things haven't just changed," Vaccaro said. "Things have gotten worse."
And isn't that kind of funny?
You might remember, if you've been following the summer circuit for a while, that Vaccaro was once considered the Bogeyman of July. He was the so-called Thing in the Dark -- somebody who, for so many people for so many years, represented everything that was wrong with summer basketball, and the common belief among the common folk was that removing the Godfather of Grassroots Hoops would eliminate most of the issues of this sport.
Were you one of the ones who thought that?
If so, you must feel silly now. Because Vaccaro removed himself from the scene six years ago and ever since has been merely watching from a distance from his home in Monterey, Calif., and yet we still just experienced a July that featured every bad stereotype of summer basketball.
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An agent scandal?
The month started with the NCAA suspending four summer teams from competition because the men who run their programs were proved to have a connection to Andy Miller of ASM Sports, an agency that represents more than two dozen NBA veterans. The NCAA obtained an email that Miller allegedly wrote in which he basically berated Matt Ramker (Florida Rams), T.J. Gasnola (New England Playaz), Desmond Eastmon (World Wide Renegades) and Tony Edwards (SEBL All-Stars) for not working hard enough to secure future "1st rd picks" even though they'll still "expect their checks." That's not a good look. But, of course, business went on as usual. The Florida Rams became Florida Elite. They simply changed names. I watched them play in the Adidas Super 64 last week.
Typical summer craziness?
A Sweet 16 game in the Adidas Super 64 featured an incident in which one player threw a punch at another player, and the benches for Urban DFW and the Compton Magic subsequently emptied. Two players on the court and everybody from both benches were ejected, which meant the final five minutes of the game had to be played four-on-four. Sigh. (Urban DFW won, if you care.)
I didn't see this with my own eyes, but Penn assistant Dan Leibovitz tweeted a picture of a summer team leaving a gym in two limousines. Seriously. Forget vans or busses or even a carpool of parents. These kids were bouncing from game to game in limos. Sad thing is that it was probably a 15-and-under team. Maybe 14-and-under. Who could possibly keep track these days?
Heavy shoe-company influence?
It's damn near impossible to watch the best prospects compete against the best prospects anymore because almost every elite prospect is aligned with either Nike, Adidas or Under Armour. So the Nike kids play in one place while the Adidas kids play in another and the Under Armour kids play in another. This often plays a role in recruiting, too. For instance, one of the interesting recruiting battles over the coming months will be for the services of twin brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison, and most expect it to come down to Kentucky and Maryland.
Why Kentucky and Maryland?
Because Kentucky is Kentucky and John Calipari is John Calipari, and those two entities have a way of getting things done. And because Maryland is the alma mater of Kevin Plank, who is the CEO of Under Armour, which is the company that outfits Maryland's athletic department and this summer funded the Harrison twins, both of whom are consensus top-10 prospects.
"It's a legal way to help steer kids to Under Armour schools -- and it's genius, and it's not illegal," said college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb, who is in the process of moving from ESPN to CBS Sports. "It's just copying the Adidas and Nike [format] -- and you can go back to the Converse/Sonny Vaccaro days -- and taking kind of that next step with it."
And that's mostly my point -- that the post-Vaccaro world isn't a world free of the ills that have for decades plagued summer basketball. Vaccaro might've started it all, sure. But at some point things got bigger than him, and, in his absence, everybody has, as Gottlieb put it, taken that next step with it. The money is greater, the characters are more sketchy and the cheating -- not to mention "legalized" cheating -- is more rampant than it ever has been, and there's still enough silliness happening on and off the court to make a reasonable man roll his eyes as he hops in his car and watches two limos full of prospects drive off into the Las Vegas desert.